Jun 8, 2018

Trump’s bedtime story: “The Book”

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio, Rebecca Zisser/Axios

It’s not true President Trump doesn’t read. It’s just exceptionally hard to get him to do it.

So the workarounds by savvy aides have become legendary in the West Wing. Many of them revolve around the briefing binder that goes to the White House residence each night, known internally as “The Book."

  • President Obama had a formal system for his homework book, which he would devour and send back to the staff with detailed notes in the margin, scrawled in his left-handed backhand.
  • With President Trump, “The Book” is sometimes a notebook, sometimes a stack of papers with a big clip, and sometimes a stack of folders.

“The Book” typically includes briefing sheets about events the president will attend the next day; his schedule for the day, week and month ahead; and a sheaf of policy papers.

  • Separately, the press and communications staffs assemble clippings — often positive, to contrast the bad news he may be seeing on cable news.
  • '“If he reads something in the press, like if he sees it on TV, that grabs his attention,” said a source close to the president.
  • The packet can even include screen grabs of cable news chyrons.

The president demands brevity, refusing to engage with briefers like his former national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, who’d come in with a PowerPoint deck dozens of pages long, filled with text.

  • “He used complete sentences!” said one person who saw the briefings, and knows better about how Trump likes his information.
  • Trump got so exasperated with McMaster that he’d look at other papers on his desk while the national security adviser was talking — his view of an alpha male move to show that the general was failing to interest him.
  • The more effective approach with Trump is to use simple, short bullets, or a graphic or timeline — anything demonstrative.
  • The bullets are so pithy that one source said they're "basically slogans."

The president still savors his print newspapers — usually New York Post first, New York Times second and Washington Post third. He also occasionally reads the deal coverage in The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times. And he likes Wall Street Journal editorials.

  • As Trump did back at Trump Tower, he'll mark up articles with a Sharpie, and direct them to various aides and Cabinet secretaries.
  • It's more complicated now than when his personal secretary would send around PDFs. Now the clips are presidential records, and so have to be tracked.

Trump may flip through "The Book" during his "executive time," the hours of the morning reserved for tweeting and watching TV.

  • White House chief of staff John Kelly added the time because Trump complained about how busy his schedule was.
  • Now Trump is used to the time and likes it, even though some aides would like to cut it shorter.
  • One source familiar with the president's calendar said: "There's no going back."

Be smart: White House officials find it as difficult as ever to get real news and real facts into the president's hands and head once he's spooled up about a specific idea. This is where the slogans come in handy.

Go deeper: Trump's secret, shrinking schedule

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Coronavirus dashboard

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  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2:30 p.m. ET: 905,279 — Total deaths: 45,371 — Total recoveries: 190,710Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 2:30 p.m. ET: 199,092 — Total deaths: 4,361 — Total recoveries: 8,362Map.
  3. Federal government latest: Vice President Mike Pence said that White House modeling suggests "Italy may be the most comparable area to the United States" in terms of coronavirus impact.
  4. State updates: Florida and Pennsylvania are the latest to issue stay-at-home orders, totaling 34 states and Washington, D.C.
  5. 2020 update: West Virginia is latest state to delay its primary — Bernie Sanders urged Wisconsin to delay April 7 primary.
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